As I laid in my bed recovering from a cold a couple of weeks ago, I entertained myself with the household Netflix account. When you’re all stuffed up, you don’t have much of a will to turn your brain on to watch walking and talking pictures, so my choice of movie for the day was The Eagle, one of those Roman Centurian movies I like so much. The Eagle was meant to be quick, cheapo entertainment – a popcorn flick. It was dropped into the theaters early in 2011 to be a quick studio cash-in, then disappear into obscurity.
The director of The Eagle, Kevin MacDonald, clearly didn’t get the idea. I’m not going to say he didn’t get the script; he had the script, alright. What he didn’t get was the studio notes. And the studio notes should have included the instructions to just get the damn thing filmed ahead of schedule and under budget. The damn movie is about two men from the ancient Roman times trying to recover a sacred eagle emblem. This doesn’t have an Oscar plot attached to it. Michael Bay would have said the plot wasn’t quite complex and elaborate enough to his high-class tastes. But MacDonald – and let’s not mince words, it’s entirely MacDonald’s fault – hammed the shit out of The Eagle, thinking it would vault him into the same directorial echelon occupied by Ridley Scott.
Yeah, that was never going to be the case. Ridley Scott is one of the greatest directors to ever sit in a cloth folding chair. He was the director of a very good ancient Roman popcorn flick called Gladiator. You may remember that one – it won a couple of major Oscars. But Scott was able to balance the ham with a sense of self-awareness that made Gladiator better than it should have been. MacDonald didn’t have that talent when he was making The Eagle, so it comes off as some kind of high-handed moral play.
We’ve lost the traditional Saturday Matinee B-movie. Replacing it has been a glot of movies that are just plain bad. The obvious counterpoint here is the fact that a lot of the legendary bad movie directors were trying to create dramatic morality plays – Ed Wood was famous for that, and that same element is what made The Room so much fun. But those were a little different because The Room was so clearly made on the fly while Wood had enough money in his budgets for a cheeseburger. (Which, arguably, was what he was delivering.)
Then There was Roger Corman. The Simpsons once featured a joke about the “thousand-dollar movie,” a version of Titanic created by Corman. It featured a cheesy-looking ship crashing into a clearly fake iceberg, the ship sinking instantly, and then an immediate shot of two survivors in a rowboat, one man, one woman… You get the idea.
Unfortunately, movies like that seem to have been lost strictly to the Syfy channel. Mostly they’re about sharks. Unfortunately, where the potential for a great bad movie exists, it’s likely to be ruined by someone doing it a bit too professionally. There are too many directors out there who think they’re making the next great philosophical statement or the next huge blockbuster. Sometimes, these can have hilarious consequences, but with budgets in the stratosphere, they come out more like statements. And not even fun ones.